Living in Society

Second Amendment Not Good Enough for Republicans

Iowa Capitol

Republican lawmakers twice passed an amendment to the Iowa Constitution which will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. I urge readers to vote no.

According to House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, “The Freedom Amendment is the proposal to enshrine in our state constitution protections for our Second Amendment rights.”

Most Americans appreciate the Bill of Rights. So do I. Here’s the Second Amendment:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

What Republicans propose isn’t the same:

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

Whoa buddy! This isn’t the language written by the founders in 1789. It is lawyered up with terms like “sovereign state” and “strict scrutiny.”

Republicans are tampering with our Second Amendment rights. They would infringe on rights that stood since the founders wrote them and the states ratified the Bill of Rights. 

Readers should pay attention on Nov. 8 and vote no on this bogus constitutional amendment that reduces our rights, protecting nothing.

~ A version of this letter appeared at the Des Moines Register on June 23, 2022.

Living in Society

No Summer Vacation in Politics

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn at the state convention, June 18, 2022.

My dance card is rapidly filling and there is no relenting until the end of the year. With the primary elections in the rear view mirror, it’s hammer down until the Nov. 8 election.

I attended what I hope is my last state Democratic convention in Des Moines on Saturday. I participated in the Senior and Retiree Constituency Caucus where we briefly heard from Admiral Mike Franken. The agenda for the caucus was unclear since officers had previously been elected and there was no new business. Some attendees complained about the types of benefits currently received from Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other retirement programs. They wanted more benefits, which is understandable. What Democrats need to do in the midterm election is elect majorities in the U.S. Senate and House so we can at least retain what we have. If Republicans win majorities, they have stated publicly they intend to sunset Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid every five years unless the Congress extends them. While Biden will veto such legislation, I’m not sure voters understand this is at stake.

Parade season, a mainstay of political campaigns, is upon us. At the convention I overheard someone who lives in a rural area say, “People are hesitant to walk in parades because they don’t want to get yelled at for being a Democrat.” There has always been some support and hate from crowds at parades. Part of being a Democrat is standing up to both the good and bad by walking in community parades along with any member of the community that wants to join. While voter concerns about harassment in heavily Republican areas are understandable, it doesn’t have to be that way. Republicans could choose decency and respect for people with whom they don’t agree. We Democrats can’t give up before we get started.

The political speeches at the convention were fine. The messaging was consistent: set aside our differences and focus on winning in November. Much is at stake. Continued Republican rule could be disastrous for everything we have come to rely upon in our government. It has already been a disaster.

I’m having to decline invitations to political events because there are so many of them. I don’t know what we can win this cycle, yet we are about to find out. Tally ho!

Living in Society

Dissolving Society

Rural Polling Place

If Iowa Republicans had their way, society as we know it would be dissolved, leaving scattered family units headed by white, male patriarchs. We would enter a life that was a combination of a Darwinian struggle for existence, non-denominational religion, and rugged individualism. Such families would have many children. Women would be allowed to continue to vote… for now. If one listens to Republican rants from the state capitol, some already believe their chosen tribal relationships are in place.

When Republicans declare war on trans people, or others who don’t lead what they consider to be a traditional life, they will fight until every one of them has been run out of the state or marginalized. The same applies to what’s taught in schools. It’s a crusade. The culture wars are more sinister if we don’t recognize their inherent neoliberalism.

Without saying what they were doing, Governor Kim Reynolds and the Republican crew embraced a conservative form of neoliberalism that includes private school vouchers, reducing taxes, gutting government spending, reducing licensing requirements, and tactics such as under funding the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to minimize the impact of regulations on business. Their unspoken goal is to enable the invisible hand of a global free market to work its magic. It’s as if they were students of Adam Smith at Milton Friedman’s Chicago school. There was even a Grover Norquist opinion in the June 7 edition of the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Understanding the commonalities between Iowa Republicans and neoliberalism doesn’t make us feel better. It helps us understand what is at stake during the coming elections.

Thom Hartmann says the end of the neoliberalism era that began with the election of Ronald Reagan is at hand. What’s next? Voters gave Obama a chance to make changes. When he didn’t or couldn’t make needed changes in our politics, they gave Trump a try.

The surge in Trump support in the 2020 Iowa election is due largely to a lie he perpetrated that he was a populist candidate. His policies did little other than support the flow of money to the richest Americans while impoverishing the rest of us. He was hardly populist despite the fandom. Governor Kim Reynolds and Senator Chuck Grassley enjoy the support of the grifting ex-president. Reynolds posted she was honored to have it.

Where do we go from here?

People don’t like neoliberalism when they know how it impacts their lives. I would argue Iowa under Kim Reynolds is a textbook example of it. We must point out the neoliberalism inherent in current Republican rule every chance we get. We must do so for as long as it takes to get voters to recognize it. Before that, we ourselves must understand and be able to articulate the meaning of neoliberalism in 2022 Iowa.

It is not helpful that voter turnout in the 2022 Democratic primary election was lower in our county compared to 2018. We hear about doing things different and rural outreach, yet 82 percent of Iowa’s Democratic primary votes cast were in the 26 most populous counties. It is hard to see how any rural outreach would benefit Democrats given that scenario.

Iowa Democrats have no one who stands out as a populist candidate at present. While President Joe Biden is doing good work, the slim majorities Democrats hold in the House and Senate prevent him from doing more. Given the partisan divide of the legislature, Biden has actually accomplished a lot in his brief tenure. Biden’s age is apparent in his mannerisms and speech, yet his policies reflect a righteous attempt to reverse the ravages of neoliberalism. He believe society as we knew it is something that should endure, as should we all.

Where do we go from here? It is an open question.

Living in Society

First Night of Jan. 6, 2021 Hearings

Our television tuned to C-SPAN for first Jan. 6 Committee hearing.

C-SPAN filled the half hour before the Jan. 6 committee hearing with Republicans whining about how Democrats were the worst. House Minority Leader Mark Meadows reviewed how many days remain until the midterm election (153) and made it clear House Republicans will delay and obfuscate until then. Meadows didn’t say it specifically yet they predict regaining majorities in both legislative chambers. This will position Republicans to return to their radical agenda. God help us.

The benefit of the televised hearing was the committee created a narrative of what happened before and on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. The piecemeal manner in which information had been published as it became known made it difficult for regular citizens to make sense of it. This hearing was a remedy for that. Some things are very clear.

Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election. His advisors, including Attorney General Bill Barr testified they repeatedly told him he lost, beginning in November 2020. While under pressure to do so, Vice President Mike Pence did not delay the Constitutionally required electoral ballot count as Trump requested publicly and privately. Chants of “hang Pence” were heard on video footage presented by the committee. When the violence subsided, the count was made, indicating Donald Trump lost the election.

Trump supported the violence. “Aware of the rioters’ chants to ‘hang Mike Pence,’ the president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea,’” Liz Cheney (R-WYO) said. “Mike Pence ‘deserves’ it.’”

When repeatedly asked to call off the mob breaching the capitol, the president declined to do so for a number of hours. In evidence presented during the hearing, Trump encouraged the mob to assault the capitol and stop the vote counting.

“The violence was no accident,” Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said as he opened the hearing. “It represented Trump’s last, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power. And ultimately, Donald Trump — the president of the United States — spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy.”

The events around storming the capitol building were violent. We heard testimony from Caroline Edwards, a Capitol police officer who was injured while defending a barricade. 140 security personnel were injured. There was video footage of violent conflict and use of force to gain entry to the capitol. The video erased any doubt this was a peaceful demonstration gone wrong as some have asserted.

There was a crude yet clear plan for what to do. The Proud Boys, an American far-right, Neo-fascist organization that promotes and engages in political violence in the United States, planned to assault the capitol building. The morning of Jan. 6, they assembled near it, not on the Ellipse, where Donald Trump was to give his speech. The Proud Boys played a leadership role in planning and executing the tactics of the day’s events. Thus far, five leaders of the group were federally indicted on seditious conspiracy charges. Many other members and affiliates have been indicted on lesser charges. There could be more.

The two-hour hearing drained my energy yet I stuck with it until the end. President Trump was so far off the reservation with his lies about the 2020 election and his efforts to subvert it I needed the hearing to regain some sense of reasonable discourse. We will never be the same after the Trump presidency. It is hard to find a silver lining in that thunderstorm.

Living in Society

Iowans Need a Voice not a Parrot

Woman Writing Letter

It’s time to elect a Democrat in the First Congressional District, one that will listen to voters after arriving in Washington. That person is Democrat Christina Bohannan.

With the close election of Nov. 3, 2020, decided April 1, 2021 when Rita Hart withdrew her contest from the House Committee on Administration, Mariannette Miller-Meeks had a choice. Either address the concerns of a divided electorate much as Representatives Jim Leach and Dave Loebsack did before her or do something else. What she did was unexpected and unwelcome.

Almost immediately the congresswoman became a parrot for Republican talking points, adopting an “all of the above” energy strategy developed by the oil, coal and gas industries. Society must stop using fossil fuels. This policy is bad for her constituents.

NOAA recently noted carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere hit 421 ppm and continues to increase — more than 50 percent higher than pre-industrial times, a level not seen since millions of years ago.

Miller-Meeks’ junket to COP 26 with the Republican Climate Caucus resulted in her parroting the “all of the above” energy strategy including development of more fossil fuel capacity. Since Russian fuel exports were sanctioned in its war with Ukraine, Miller-Meeks doubled down on this misguided policy.

Voters need a voice in Washington, not a parrot of right-wing talking points. Miller-Meeks works for us, not the fossil fuel industry. She had her chance. It’s time to elect Christina Bohannan on Nov. 8.

~ First published in The Little Village on June 7, 2022.

Living in Society

Election Returns Tonight

Solon baseball field.

Today’s task is to find something useful to do while waiting for primary election returns after 8 p.m. tonight. There are a number of results-watching gatherings around the county. I don’t like driving after dark, so it will be me at my computer staying up past my bedtime.

The county has a number of contested races with key legislators Mary Mascher, Joe Bolkcom, and Christina Bohannan deciding to leave the legislature at the end of this term. Usually, these have been secure seats where there was no contest, and re-election assured. Change is in the future of the Johnson County delegation to the legislature.

I’m also interested in Linn County’s races, particularly the Molly Donahue-Austin Frerick Iowa Senate Race. I favor Donahue. I would also like to see Liz Bennett win her state senate primary over Joe Zahorik. The rest of the contests are less interesting yet important to follow. Based on who filed in which district, it seems unlikely Democrats will gain control of either chamber of the legislature this cycle.

In my precinct, the U.S. Senate, Secretary of State, and County Supervisor primaries are the only contested races. Our precinct has been losing Democrats over the past ten years, so I’m interested in how we turn out and vote because I’m not sure how our state legislative electorate will evolve. Losing Cedar County and gaining Iowa County will no doubt make it more conservative overall. I’m watching the Republican race to challenge Elle Wyant, although it seems a foregone conclusion Brad Sherman will win among the six candidates.

The weather is forecast to be mild so I’ll work in the garden. I’m also writing a letter to the editor due to be submitted and published after the primary. There is plenty to do as we await the results. I’ll have more to say after the winners are known.

Living in Society

Last Primary Rally

Michael Franken Rally at Lower City Park, Iowa City, Iowa on June 5, 2022.

When asked, most attendees at the Michael Franken for U.S. Senate River-to-River rally in Iowa City raised their hands to indicate they had voted early in the June 7 Democratic Primary election. In Johnson County, we like voting early. The River-to-River rallies may be the final hurrah for Franken, although the election is a jump ball between him and Abby Finkenauer. If he wins, he’s ready for the general election campaign. If he doesn’t… well, let’s not talk about that.

It’s an insular crowd in the county seat. When a friend introduced me as a member of the central committee, a woman said she didn’t know all the candidates on the ballot and the Democratic Party should do more to get the word out. I said I would raise the issue at the July meeting, She went to the farmers market to meet candidates. Some of them weren’t there when she was, and she was surprised when their names appeared on the absentee ballot. I suggested doing what I did: look at the sample ballot when published and research the ones where more information was needed. The farmer’s market is not where most county residents go to learn about candidates, I said. She didn’t believe there were any significant number of voters outside Iowa City and everyone should be able to find out about candidates at the farmers market. It takes all kinds to make a Democratic Party.

Present at the rally were political friends made during the run up to the 2008 Iowa Caucus when Democrats fielded eight major candidates and activists got to meet them all if they wanted. I worked Sunday’s rally crowd as time allowed. There were so many with whom to discuss politics and the pent up social longing created by the coronavirus pandemic. It was a picture-perfect day for it.

I’ll support the Democrat who wins the primary election in the general. I’ve had enough face time with Franken to have my issues addressed and some of them incorporated into his stump speech. It is hard to predict what Iowa Democrats will do on Tuesday, yet I’m hoping they pick Michael Franken for U.S. Senate.

Living in Society

Car Talk – Primary Election Edition

Spring Cornfield

I brought the bundle of campaign mailers with me to Des Moines where I picked up my spouse who is helping her sister get settled in her new place. On the trip home, among fields of corn beginning to sprout, and wind turbines turning slowly in the steady breeze, we reviewed and discussed the three competitive races on the June 7 Democratic Primary ballot and made our decisions. It was a rational conversation, one like married couples have. We stopped by the county auditor’s office on the way home and cast our ballots.

The office was not crowded with early voters so I took my time voting. As I read each name on the ballot, I thought of my last in-person interaction with that person. There was one for each of the candidates. At a certain point in life one can have that. I’m learning to savor it. I slid the ballot in the ballot box and that was that: another election vote into the history books.

If I once thought the passing spring farm scene was bucolic, it is no more. While the neatly squared fields promise new life, the cultivation of corn and soybeans is ruining our water quality and environment. The practices are unsustainable despite how well measured and neatly planted are row crops. There is a system, well developed and based on scientific principles, but its result has been an unintended consequence.

A new study indicated the U.S. corn belt will be unsuitable for growing corn by the end of this century because of current technology and practices. “There may be a shift in corn cultivation from the Midwest to the Eastern region,” researchers found. It is important for farmers to make a shift from reliance on corn and soybeans going forward. It is hard enough for a farmer to make a living without disrupting the industrial agricultural practices they have come to know. Unless the government gets involved, such a transition seems unlikely.

The weather on Tuesday was peak Iowa. A light breeze, sunny skies, and comfortable humidity. We enjoy these days of partly cloudy skies and highways that seem to continue forever. We also enjoy the car talk as we find our way home.

Living in Society

After the Democratic Primary

Iowa County Democrats central committee meeting on May 10, 2022.

Iowa and the country are heading into a weird place. The combination of isolated lives made more so by the pandemic, social media, and unceasing stimulus from people and corporations wanting to convince us of something brought us here. The sense of loss is palpable.

I miss the political environment we had when I was growing up, when Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were president. Democrats were in the minority in Iowa yet I felt there was a secure place for people whose opinions differed from the majority. That feeling was lost, slowly eroded until it was gone. There are few prospects of it returning. All that is visible is a bare wound with the bandages of society ripped off. We are becoming a place where our assumptions about feeling welcome are challenged.

To meet this — that is, to maintain mental health — I return to specific actions in a limited context, to wit: Once the winners of the June 7 primary election are known, it’s hammer down to the Nov. 8 general election. There will be plenty of political work to do in that five-month period. The Iowa Democratic Party reached out for an organizing event this week in the First Congressional District, and I plan to do my part. After the rout in 2020, why won’t I give up? There is a bigger picture related to needing something useful and fulfilling to do.

It begins with the idea people are not that interested in my stories about old campaigns. I told my story about helping elect Lyndon Johnson in 1964, yet there are only so many times that old saw can be brought out. It still cuts wood among people who haven’t heard it. Trouble is, most people I hang with have heard it.

As I age my views become less relevant to people on life’s main stage. I’m being mostly forgotten, not quite a has-been, but one can see it from here. I’m okay with that. I remain a predictable Democratic vote and can bring a few people with me when needed.

As far as the economy goes, my fixed income isn’t a driver. When the curtain falls on this mortal coil, my payments to the gas, telephone and cable company won’t be missed. My insurance company may miss me, yet once the final payments are made the relationship will be over.

We need short-term projects, in which to engage. Projects like the 2022 midterm election campaign. It helps us forget the hopelessness of modern society and the hegemony of rich folk hard at work deconstructing what few protections remain in government programs like Social Security and Medicare. I miss the old days, yet look forward to the new, even if the sense of loss is palpable.

I think there is a song about that.

Living in Society

Memorial Day Weekend 2022

Service Flags

The only national holiday I note is Memorial Day. Giving one’s life for their country is the ultimate sacrifice, something to be noted and revered, even if the death occurred in the most ignominious circumstances. Long ago I fell away from celebrating birthdays and holidays. My celebratory focus is the Memorial Day weekend.

Partly, it’s because Memorial Day is in spring. Leaves on the fruit trees and oaks look the best they do all year, before insects arrive and ravage the pristine growth. I endeavor to get the garden in by now, although I’m behind this year.

Military service has been important in my life. I wanted to do my part for a greater good and that led me to enlist in 1975. I was a peacetime soldier. It seems important to recognize those who gave their lives while serving in the military.

The weekend began last weekend when I asked our state house candidate whether they would attend the fire fighter’s breakfast to greet people. No, there were other plans. Even though our child left home in 2007, my spouse remains with her sister to finish the move to Des Moines, and I don’t get out much, I continue well-worn habits.

Friday, for the first time since March 13, 2020, I had dinner at a restaurant with friends. Our political writing group has been itching to get out and break the coronavirus pandemic isolation. A good time was had at a local brewery where they make an “Iowa City lager.” I learned to love pilsner beers while serving in the military. We have been writing together since we met before the 2006 general election cycle.

Saturday was a catch up in the garden day. I spaded the last plot, planted bell peppers, and harvested what is expected to be an avalanche of kale and other greens. I cleaned up and moved to the kitchen where I made a batch of vegetable broth. I closed the evening there, made a big salad for dinner, and water bath canned the vegetable broth, finishing up at bedtime.

I missed listening to A Prairie Home Companion on the radio. The program was my Saturday night for so many years. I couldn’t stand the loss so I went to the living room and turned on the new (to us) digital television to watch an episode of Pati Jinich’s Mexican Table from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Jinich is no Garrison Keillor, and that’s a good thing. Her history as a policy analyst, focused on Latin American politics and history, makes her more interesting. Nonetheless, I missed the tradition of listening to the radio while working in the kitchen. No. I’m not hooking up a television in the kitchen to watch cooking shows. That would be so wrong.

Today is the fire fighters breakfast and I plan to attend when they open at 6:30 a.m. Almost everyone in the area comes into the station and I can break the isolation at home for an hour. I don’t particularly enjoy the industrial food, yet greeting locals I haven’t seen since last year makes the event worthwhile.

After the breakfast I would normally get out a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby for my annual read. It is one of the best books about summer, although I missed last year’s read and may let it lie this year as well. Noting my fandom, our child gave me a couple of posters derived from the book. They are not a fan of Gatsby. I hope to get the posters framed. I may yet read Fitzgerald again, although it’s time for new habits and new interests. The garden isn’t in yet so there is that work to do today. I’ll need something else after it is in.

Tomorrow is the holiday and I’ll put the flag outside. I eschew the ceremonies in town which have turned into an “all veterans” celebration. That misses the point. I considered driving west in the new legislative district to Marengo for their Memorial Day remembrance. The legion has gone to an “all veterans” format as well. I’ll likely just drive to the cemetery and pay my respects after breakfast this morning.

Freedom has a cost, and there is no more salient aspect of it than the sacrifices men and women made by giving their lives in military service. Memorial Day celebrations are tempered with a feeling of loss, isolation, and sadness this year. One hopes participating in the holiday makes us stronger as we enter summer.